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Campers stranded after well bursts, leaking natural gas in Grand County

Posted at 9:58 PM, Apr 09, 2023

GRAND COUNTY, Utah — It’s been over 58 hours since a wellhead burst in Grand County, releasing thousands of pounds of natural gas and causing campers to evacuate.

“You can see this white plume coming out,” said camper Stone Parker. “With no sign or understanding of how they’re going to shut it, what’s going on, and what gas is actually coming out of the ground.”

An “equipment malfunction” on Friday around 11:45 a.m. caused natural gas to leak out of a well for days near the White Wash Sand Dunes.

“There’s approximately 2,000 pounds of natural gas exiting that wellhead. If it were to combust, it could possibly burn for the next five to ten years,” said Grand County Sheriff Jamison Wiggins.

The sheriff’s office evacuated the two-mile radius around the well and shut down the main road. The closure forced campers like Parker and his son to stay in Utah and miss a plane ride back home to Washington.

“From a rock where we were camping, we were able to get up high and see the white cloud being shot up into the sky,” he said.

There is one way out: a long route that requires an ATV or four-wheel drive. Many campers and motorhomes can’t make the drive, so they chose to stay.

“To have a road closure like this, you can truly be abandoned since there simply aren’t alternative routes to get from one place to the other,” said Lorenzo McGregor, co-owner of Tex’s Riverways.

Ruby Ranch is one of Tex’s Riverways launch sites. The canoe and kayak river shuttle service has had to scramble and change plans for booked clients.

“That’s been the biggest challenge is not knowing anything,” he said. “Not knowing anything, it’s just impossible to plan to move forward.”

The sheriff said campers are safe since they are a few miles away. It’s the one-mile radius that’s a concern.

A specialized team from Texas flew in to try and control the leak. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining is also on-site.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this. It’s been relayed to me from some of the drillers that they haven’t experienced this type of issue in 30 years,” said Wiggins. “It is very dangerous, and we’re treating it as such.”

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office supplied campers with food and water. If anyone runs out, they’re encouraged to call the department, and law enforcement will fly in more essentials.

Rose Petroleum released a statement on Sunday saying they “believe” the well can be under control late Monday. The company also went on to say that those efforts could take longer.